Empowered to Empower
By Georgia Mutagahywa ~ Corporate Affairs Guru on 26 May 2020Personal Journey
I could not have come this far without the support of friends and sistaz … Beatrix Mugishagwe, Caroline Kavishe, Nina Eshun, Amb Mwanaidi Maajar, Justice Joaquinne De Mello, Elieshi Lema, Dorothy Massawe, Letitia Bakirane, Zuhura Muro, Fatma Alloo, Maria Shaba, Jill Bishop, Halima Shariff, Viola Makame, Demere Kitunga and so many more supportive women who have been a part of my journey through the years….Thank you for creating that space for me where I can always be myself. ASANTENI SANA! I would also like to thank my teams at Coca-Cola Kwanza, Celtel, Zain, Ericsson, Vodacom, Tanzania Breweries Limited and AB-InBev East Africa for having accorded me the privilege of working with them to deliver on our companies’ expectations. I look back with pride and pat myself on the back for having contributed to the grooming of leaders who are better than me. Continue to soar….
Home is where our learning of the world begins. Our upbringing shapes us…growing up with the archetypal Cinderella step-mother, I thought I was the unluckiest child in the world. I literally had to work to earn money for school from the time I was around 12 years old. We lived in Nairobi where people have always appreciated entrepreneurship and I used to braid people’s hair (oh yes!) for money as well as weave baskets, knit shawls and sweaters. Little did I know , then, that she was building my resilience muscle. For, even today, when things get tough (which trust me they always do), I look back and tell myself that if I survived those tough years of my youth, I will pull through.
Back to the corporate world. What I do know for sure, is that I would not have made it this far without the support of others. I have had the privilege of working for some of the biggest companies in Tanzania which had some extraordinary leaders who understood my personality type - ambivert (the subject of another piece) - and gave me the room to grow through making mistakes and learning from them.
I remember after I graduated from college at the top of my class, I struggled to get a job because I did not conform to the stereotype of the meek female young woman. This did not deter me and when I was offered a job that paid me less than the cleaner at The Business Times newspaper, I accepted it. I knew that this was an opportunity for me to prove myself. I thank Rashid Mbughuni, the late Richard Nyaulawa , the late Bernard Palela and Amb Ferdinand Ruhinda who took a chance on me and gave me that job. By the time I left the media house I had made Managing Editor. I was probably the first female Tanzanian Managing Editor of a media house. My time at the Business Times was about learning, learning and learning. My management skills were horned there because I was responsible for the editorial, advertising and circulation departments. It was not smooth sailing though…a lot of tears and disagreements happened along the way.
My journey into the corporate world was orchestrated by my good friend - Danny Kiondo – who introduced me to Colin Walton the Country Manager of Coca-Cola Kwanza at the time. Like with all multi-nationals, the psychometrics took a while and by the time I was given an offer for the position of External Affairs Manager, I was expecting my first child. Despite everybody around me asking me not to inform the company of my condition, I did so. ( Integrity and honesty are values that I uphold and live by). I got the job! This was at a time when the only company in Tanzania that had a Corporate Affairs Director was the Tanzania Cigarette Company (TCC) and he was the late Bernard Palela who had been my boss at the Business Times. I relied on him for guidance and advice when setting up the External Affairs function at Coca-Cola Kwanza.
When Celtel came a ‘calling – Chris Keeping, Zuhura Muro, Gerhard May, Bashar Arafeh, Steve Torode, Mwambu Wanendeya, Naimi Barnabas, Amelo Ejalu and many others supported me during my time there. Nobody does it alone. I know for a fact that Ambassador Maajar and Omari Issa supported me during this period in which I was exposed to many global leadership training programmes. We all need someone who speaks for us in fora that we do not have a seat in. We, in turn, have to give back through lifting others. I remember when Zain Africa took over Celtel, and I needed to expand my team, I offered a lady who was expecting a child a job and some of my colleagues thought I was crazy to do so to which my response was - pregnancy is a temporary condition. To this day this person still works for Airtel Tanzania.
I have enjoyed a lot of support from colleagues and bosses through the years. At Ericsson Sub–Saharan Africa, Mwambu Wanendeya and my colleagues across Africa supported me greatly. Vodacom was not any different , Rene Meza, the MD and I had many arguments and differed many times but he allowed me to grow. We worked together to provide a voice for employees across the business and to uplift the status of women. I look back on my days at Vodacom with pride at the lives that we impacted sometimes without the individuals involved being aware of what was happening! I was lucky to have Nina Eshun who has been a friend for many years there as well. Nina was both a sounding board for ideas and a shoulder to cry on when the going got tough.
Tanzania Breweries Limited, SAB Miller and AB-In Bev have provided me with immense opportunities for growth. It is interesting that I am back in the manufacturing sector where my journey into the corporate world began. These three companies are the Gold standard on so many fronts. I am particularly proud of having been accorded the opportunity to work with young people, see them grow, work cross functionally, promote talent but more importantly, mainstream Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.
What have I learnt through the years? Empowerment is about trust. I am lucky to have worked for companies that with hindsight – had empowering workplaces. These were organizations that were designed so that people could exercise the natural power that comes from being a human being. The people that I worked with were already empowered. My role was to just give them a voice and the authority to exercise the empowerment that we all naturally have. Empowerment cannot be top down – if I have the power to empower people then I also have the same power to disempower them. Is that not a scary thought?
It did not matter whether I worked in the media, Celtel, Zain, Ericsson, Vodacom or TBL, I pushed decision making down as far down as possible so that the decisions were made by the people closest to the information. To my team(s), that never understood why I work(ed) like this, you now have the answer!
By Georgia Mutagahywa ~ Corporate Affairs Guru